‘Grow up, come together, find a solution’: Jackson residents want the city and state to come together to end the water crisis

EPA Administrator Michael Regan and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson met with Jackson residents...
EPA Administrator Michael Regan and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson met with Jackson residents Wednesday to discuss the ongoing water crisis.(WLBT)
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 12:29 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Residents are calling on state and city leaders to come together and fix Jackson’s ongoing water crisis.

A week ago, operations at Jackson’s main water treatment plant were shut down after two backup pumps broke down.

The state of Mississippi stepped in to help Jackson get the plant back online, even as the mayor and governor traded jabs and held “dueling press conferences” to discuss the situation.

Officials with the EPA were in town on Wednesday, where they heard first-hand from residents about their concerns, and their desires for the state and city to work together to address the problem.

“Grow up, come together, find a solution,” said Deandra Colman, who attended a meeting at a home in the Bel Air community. “We’re all citizens of the state of Mississippi. We’re not all citizens of Jackson, but we are citizens of Mississippi, and if you are the governor of the state of Mississippi, you ought to be concerned about all the [people].”

“And it’s a shame, it’s the capital city,” said Imelda Brown, who also was in attendance.

“He comes to work here, and I’m sure he wants to take a drink of water while he is here in Jackson,” Colman added.

“And we want drinking water. We want bathing water. We want cooking water, we want it,” Brown said. “If we’re paying a water bill every month... we want something for our money.”

About a dozen residents gathered at the Queensroad Avenue home of Ollie Mae Anderson to discuss the water situation with EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Congressman Bennie Thompson. Representatives from the NAACP also were present.

Rep. Thompson discusses Jackson's water crisis, and the need for the city and state to work...
Rep. Thompson discusses Jackson's water crisis, and the need for the city and state to work together.(WLBT)

Residents discussed everything, from how the water situation has impacted schools and quality of life to the back-and-forth between city and state leaders.

“[It’s] about who they think is to blame, but who cares? It’s here now. The problem is here, and we need to try to just solve the problem,” one woman told the administrator. “We don’t want to hear that. We want to hear solutions.”

“That’s what we’re here to do,” Regan said.

“And we are really affected harder by the water. It’s not Eastover. It’s not Virden Addition... not Georgetown... This is a city where we should come together in a crisis,” Brown said, sitting on the edge of a sofa in her mother’s living room. “We need help, and we need it now.”

Prior to the Curtis plant’s near-shutdown in August, the EPA cited numerous problems at the facility in recent years. In 2021, a severe winter storm caused equipment to freeze up at the plant, cutting water service for customers for weeks.

After that, a fire broke out at the plant in April 2021. This year, the state has imposed at least two boil water notices on the city due to problems at the plant. The second one was issued on July 29 and was still in place as of September 7.

“Let me ask you this? When was the last time y’all had confidence in your drinking water?” Regan asked.

Several of those in attendance said it’s been years. Colman told Regan she lost confidence after she started working for the city in 1996.

“When I started working for the city, and had to go to the meetings and saw all the boil notices and all that... I’ve been using bottled water since then,” Colman said.

“One of the reasons we’re here is because when you lose trust, it’s hard to regain,” Regan said. “What we don’t want to do is fix this problem, but because there is no transparency in the process, and y’all weren’t brought along, when it’s fixed you still don’t trust it.”

“We want to get beyond that point. We want to build trust.”

A poll released recently by Chism Strategies shows people are frustrated with Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and Gov. Tate Reeves in their handling of the crisis.

Just 30.6 percent of Jackson voters polled said the state should help fund the repairs and that the city should “continue to oversee the repairs and long-term operations” of the water system. Another 30 percent of voters “preferred a state-created regional water authority to run the plant with board appointees from both the city and Hinds County,” while another 26.6 percent of those questioned favored a state takeover of Jackson’s water system, Chism reported.

Meanwhile, Reeves and Lumumba have gone back and forth over who is at fault for the crisis.

“I personally believe that we cannot depend upon the city of Jackson to provide that,” Reeves said, referring to Jackson’s ability to manage its water system. He went on to say the state has never received a formal plan from Jackson on how it could help address Jackson’s water woes.

At a press conference Tuesday, Lumumba said the city has presented those plans, but to no avail.

Thompson said the city and the state both have to get on the same page, and their cooperation is needed to ensure that people again have confidence in Jackson’s drinking water.

“The federal government is a participant in making that happen,” Thompson said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the state and local governments that have to sit down and work this out,” he said. “You have to have the local cooperation.”

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